Anti-Madhes protesters shut down Nepal’s Terai region

July 10th, 2008 - 3:13 pm ICT by IANS  

By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, July 10 (IANS) Twenty-two ethnic organisations opposing the creation of a single state for people of Indian origin Thursday shut down Nepal’s Terai plains, blocking highways near the Indian border as well as customs offices and entry points. An Indian Jeep carrying a wedding party was vandalised in Sunsari district while Birgunj town, Nepal’s industrial hub where dozens of Indo-Nepal industries are located, was shut down.

The Tharu Kalyankarini Sabha spearheaded the protest with 21 other indigenous organisations. The Tharus were the original inhabitants of the fertile plains but were displaced by migrants from India and Nepal’s hills and reduced to bonded slaves by the newcomers.

Scholars from the community say Gautam Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, was a Tharu. The 22 organisations are opposing the demand by three Terai parties, who emerged as the fourth largest bloc in the April election, for the creation of an autonomous Madhes state in the Terai.

The opponents of the Madhes dream say while they are from Terai, they do not consider themselves to be Madhesis or people of Indian origin. The formation of a Madhes state would marginalise them, the protesters say.

During the Maoist insurgency, Tharus supported the underground party en masse and were the most oppressed by security forces. They are now calling for the creation of a state for Tharus, Tharuwat.

This is the second strike called by the anti-Madhes protesters within a week. Thursday’s closure comes after the ruling parties seemed on the verge of reaching an agreement with the Madesh parties.

An agreement is essential since the Madhes parties obstructed Nepal’s caretaker parliament for 12 days, halting the formation of a new government.

Though they allowed the constituent assembly to convene Wednesday, the three Terai parties boycotted the session, warning that they would start a new stir if the demand for a Madhes state was not met.

The government of Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala now finds itself caught between these two warring groups.

Thursday’s strike saw transport come to a halt, Nepal-bound vehicles and trucks stranded near the Indian border and educational institutions, shops and markets and industries remaining closed.

The Terai, once ignored by a succession of governments, became Nepal’s new Achilles’ heel since the fall of king Gyanendra’s government in 2006.

Last year, turbulence in the Terai forced the critical election to be postponed once. Now fresh unrest in Nepal’s food bowl could affect the formation of the new government as well as the writing of a new constitution.

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